One Day in March that Might Change the Way We Look at Testing

By daylight, USA Today had hit the streets. It didn’t take long for the story to be picked up by the blogosphere, on television and radio, and in other media outlets.

Michelle Rhee’s test-driven reforms in Washington, D.C., which supposedly resulted in higher test scores and the firing of hundreds of teachers, were tainted by allegations of widespread cheating, the newspaper reported. Did the culture of testing – bonuses to principals who raised scores, exile to those who didn’t – actually cause the cheating to occur, people began to ask.

Meet the New Test -- Same as the Old Test

In a recent Washington Post piece, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan repeated a refrain we have heard far too often about the subject of testing.

In a nutshell, Duncan admits that No Child Left Behind and its reliance on standardized, fill-in-the-bubble, multiple guess tests both dumbs-down and narrows instruction.  Surprise, surprise.

The Secretary goes on to promise that new consortiums working on assessments will produce “a new test” he claims will “measure what children know across the full range of college and career-ready standards, and measures other skills, such as critical-thinking ability.”

Seeing STARS in Nebraska

Imagine that in this era of reducing everything we do in schools to a score on a high-stakes, standardized test that one state just says no. Imagine that this state relies upon locally established standards, assessments developed by teachers and administered in classrooms by those teachers, and only gives one state wide test—a writing sample again scored by teachers. Imagine that the State Commissioner of Education supports and fights for this system, because he believes that assessment should not drive instruction but simply be one tool to assist good teaching.

What's Wrong With High Stakes Testing?

As a school principal I am often asked why I do not support high stakes testing. After all, doesn't the existence of a test for graduation force kids to take school more seriously? And doesn't it make teachers do a better job of teaching?

The answer to both questions is no. In fact, it is my experience that not only do such tests not improve schools, they actually hurt them.

Looking for Evidence

Two interesting news articles caught my attention recently, both having to do with how in spite of improving test scores nothing seems to have changed in terms of student performance.

On June 26th, the Boston Globe reported that in spite of Massachusetts' students having to pass a test for graduation, 37% of freshman at public colleges still need remedial help. That's down only 2% from 2002, the year before the test was required.

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